When the Lakers began their head coaching search this summer, they made it known that they would prefer a candidate that not only can command the locker room, but also one who had ties to the purple and gold. Considering how fully he checked both boxes, it wasn’t entirely shocking to see how quickly the Lakers fell for Darvin Ham, who commenced his NBA coaching career back in 2011 with the team.
Despite leaving in 2013, when then Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer handpicked Ham to be part of his staff, Ham retained a connection to the Lakers. Teams divvy up the task of scouting opponents amongst their own assistants, and as he admitted at his introductory presser, one of Ham’s teams was often the Lakers. Still, he of course had no idea that he’d one day return to the Lakers as their 28th head coach.
“Knowing this is the team and the franchise that gave me my start — albeit it was Mike Brown that hired me, the Buss family had to sign off on it — and the fact that I got my start as a coach here, this place will always be special to me. Always was special to me, always paid attention to what was going on with the Lakers even in my other travels through Atlanta and Milwaukee. It’s like a homecoming for me, in all seriousness,” Ham said in his press conference.
The Lakers and Ham now reunite after having each won a championship in the past three years. Despite experiencing their greatest success of the last decade apart from each other, both parties still have foundational memories to look back on from their time together. For Ham, it was coaching Lakers legend Kobe Bryant that made an indelible mark.
On the value of his time coaching Kobe, Ham said, “Oh man, it was great. God rest his soul. We spent a lot of time together on the practice court, individual workouts, watching film, watching clips. If I can go back-and-forth with him and have him disagree with me and then double back and tell me I was right, we all know how stubborn he was, man. It just gave me a wealth of confidence in myself as a coach.”
Ham continued by relating the lessons he learned from Kobe to how he has and will collaborate with other superstars, “...even with Russ, LeBron, AD, Giannis, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Al Horford, Paul Millsap, these guys I’ve been able to coach and be around and learn from them. It’s a two-way street. It’s not just this coach that thinks he knows it all and is barking orders. No, you have to be able to collaborate, communicate and understand each other and not your way or my way but what’s the best way to go forward. What’s the best plan for all of us? Kobe was right at the forefront of that in my own development as a coach [with] the workouts we would do on the court, the type of film we would watch, dinners that we’ve had offline, just getting away from it all, he’s a big part of why I was able to grow the way I did as a coach.”
Now, having spent a decade building upon the lessons he learned from Bryant, Ham returns to Los Angeles with the opportunity to lead a team which boasts as much star-power as any other around the league. His new squad, of course, will be led by LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and (maybe) Russell Westbrook — three players who had their own unique ties to the legend.
From starting out as a brand new assistant to calling the shots as a first-time head coach, Ham’s journey with the Lakers has come full-circle. Hopefully, for both parties, their best days together are yet to come. Whether or not Ham can lead the Lakers back to the promised land remains uncertain, but his historical connection to the franchise and ability to address the team’s particular asks of its head coach certainly makes it feel like his homecoming is meant to be.